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Can you get an Applicant's Criminal History?

We get all kinds of questions on resident-controlled housing from residents, managers and consultants. In this space, we'll direct your questions to the appropriate expert. This issue, Janet Meaney, Vice-President of Barkan Management, answers questions about screening applicants.

Q: My co-op often gets applications from people who (I think) have a criminal background. How can we find out if applicants have been convicted of significant crimes? And once we find out, can we not accept those people?

Answering the first question, you might be able to obtain limited access to an individual's criminal history through the Criminal History Systems Board, otherwise known as the CORI law. The fee is $25 per inquiry and the requesting party should contact CHSB to inquire whether clearance is necessary. Any information received through this public access is considered public and there is no restriction on secondary dissemination. In order for the information to be publicly accessible, the person whose record is requested must be convicted of a crime punishable by

a sentence of 5 years or more (i.e. a felony) or convicted of any crime and sentenced to a term of incarceration (felony or misdemeanor) and at the time of the request is one of the following:

incarcerated;

on probation;

on parole;

having been convicted of a misdemeanor, has been released from all custody within the past year;

having been convicted of a felony, has been released from all custody within the past two years; or

having received a state sentence, was either denied parole while incarcerated, or, having been returned as a parole violator, is within three years of discharge from custody.

This law has been widely misunderstood as opening all criminal records to the public. In fact, it only makes accessible conviction information on current criminals.

In addition, CORI applies to criminal history in Massachusetts only. One could apply for public access in other states, but rules may vary from state to state.

On the second question, according to our liability consultant, the law is unclear as to whether or not it is lawful to refuse housing based on criminal history. There is a lack of case law, so at the very least, if a cooperative decides to refuse housing on the basis of a conviction alone, it must be very careful and consistent in its application to avoid a discrimination lawsuit. In addition, it would seem reasonable to base refusal of housing on the perceived danger or risk to the cooperative as a result of the type of conviction of the applicant.

Janet M. Meaney, CPM is Vice President for Barkan Management Company in Boston. Barkan specializes in the management of resident-controlled housing whose portfolio includes approximately 10,000 units in New England with corporate offices in both Boston and Glastonbury, Connecticut.

 

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